Lives Lost: At veterans’ home, towering legacies of the dead

AP Photo/David Goldman Emilio DiPalma, 93, had gone off to war as a happy-go-lucky kid, but it didn’t take long for his Hollywood visions of battle to dissolve into the reality of watching friends die. After the Germans were defeated, DiPalma was sent to Nuremberg, where he made copies of documents detailing war crimes, watched over Nazis in their prison cells and stood guard beside the witness box in the courtroom where the evils of genocide were detailed. One time, he filled the glass of one of the most powerful Nazis — Hermann Goring — with toilet water. Back home in the U.S., he lived a life of humility, rarely talking about his service. “He did all of this in World War II and we hardly knew about it,” says his daughter Emily Aho.

Each of their stories was different, but common strains repeat: Of humility and generosity; of finding joy in the unpretentious; of a sharp mind disappearing into fog or a hale body betrayed by age.

And, of service, in war or in peace, that often went unspoken when they returned home.

In their final years, these veterans found their place at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts. And in their final days, as the coronavirus engulfed the home and killed more than 70, they found battle again.

Left behind by these victims of the pandemic are those who were blessed by their kindnesses. Memorial Day dawns for the first time without them here, and a new emptiness pervades the little Cape Cods and prim colonials they once shared.

At these doorsteps, they were heroes not for valor, not for the enemies they defeated, but for the tenderness they showed. Peek through their bay windows and screen doors and bedroom panes. There is no blizzard of ticker tape, no gunfire of salute, just a void, a hole, a chasm of what’s been lost.

AP Photo/David Goldman Francis Foley, 84, never learned to read music but could play any song by ear. He loved a cup of coffee and something sweet from Dunkin’ Donuts. He kept the nurses at the home laughing. He was fiercely protective of his family. Ask his family about the man they lost, and the words flow easily about the card-carrying union carpenter, Army veteran, devoted husband of 54 years and father of four. “He was strong. He was funny. He was engaging. He was ornery. He was feisty,” his daughter Keri Rutherford says. “He was still full of life. And then within days, he’s gone.”

Seeking to capture moments of private mourning at a time of global isolation, Associated Press photographer David Goldman visited the homes of 12 families struggling to honor spouses, parents and siblings during a lockdown that has sidelined many funeral traditions.

Goldman used a projector to cast large images of the veterans onto the homes of their loved ones, who looked out from doors and windows. The resulting portraits show both the towering place each veteran held in their loved ones’ lives — and the sadness left behind. Here are their stories:

AP Photo/David Goldman Constance Pinard, 73, had a life with struggles: A marriage gone sour, the pressures of raising two children on her own, family rifts that grew worse with an aggressive case of dementia. But there were so many joys, too: The miles she drove in her Jeep or flew in the air to reach new places as a travel nurse, the rank of captain she achieved, the thrill of meeting Barry Manilow, the musician she loved. Her sister Tammy Petrowicz remembers a woman overflowing with energy “like the Energizer Bunny,” who was 16 years older but “still could run circles around me.” The Air Force veteran loved meeting new people wherever she went. Petrowicz recalls standing in a grocery store line with her, chit-chatting with strangers like they were old friends. “She talked to anybody and everybody,” her sister says.

AP Photo/David Goldman Alfred Healy, 91, loved corny jokes and adored his family. He listened to audiobooks constantly and closely followed the news. He devoured history and was quick with facts on U.S. presidents. He was humble. He won a Bronze Star, but his family only found out how decorated a soldier he was when he was gone. He was a longtime U.S. Postal Service employee who rose to become a town postmaster. He was sharp as a tack and liked to deem things “snazzy” or “classy.” On his last night, the nurses gave him chocolate ice cream and showed him photos of some young relatives. And by dawn, he was gone.

AP Photo/David Goldman Harry Malandrinos, 89, was a quiet man, but had many stories to tell: of fighting a war in Korea, of touring the U.S. as a band’s drummer, of four decades as a public school teacher. “When he spoke, you listened, because he didn’t waste his words,” his daughter-in-law Cheryl Malandrinos says. He always had a joke, was a master woodworker, avidly rooted for the Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins and would happily settle for “Family Feud” if his teams weren’t on TV. Every now and again, his son Paul Malandrinos would run into a former student of his father’s who would sing his praises. “He was pretty much the working class guy that represents so many of us,” his daughter-in-law says.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)